April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Fever

UPDATE: On Thursday, the WHO announced it would no longer use the term "swine flu" as pigs are now being slaughtered and pork products are being banned.

The news media outlets are in full alarm mode regarding the Influenza H1N1 virus, coined as the "Swine Flu". As of this morning there are 112 confirmed H1N1 cases worldwide, with 8 confirmed deaths (although the virus is suspected in 100+ deaths in Mexico). 

I don't want to be misconstrued or appear trite. I take seriously any and all public health concerns. But even CNN is reporting--in a rare bout of perspective--that on average some 36,000 people die every year in the U.S. due to seasonal flu.  That's 3,000 seasonal flu deaths a month. Thus, we should always excerise diligence in our preventative actions such as hand-washing, food-handling, and proper dietary consumption. 

So, the obvious question is why are the various media networks  spreading such fear and panic about swine flu when we already have much more evident clear and present dangers such as the so-called regular flu and the fact that child obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled since 1980. And don't get me started on annual traffic fatalities...

April 27, 2009

April 26, 2009

Forever a Golden Girl

Bea Arthur
(May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009)

What a force of nature Bea Arthur was. Although a respected and formidable stage actor, Ms. Arthur will alwys be known and beloved for her indelible characters on TVs "Maude" (1972-1978) and "Golden Girls" (1985-1992). Her sharp tongue and precise timing were a joy to behold. May she rest in peace. 

April 24, 2009

Bigotry in a Can

A colleague brought this disturbing article to my attention, a revelation about the popular and ubiquitous energy drink, Rockstar. 

[from Michael Jones, Communications Director, Human Right Program, Harvard Law School]

A few facts about Rockstar Energy Drink. It was co-founded by conservative radio host Michael Savage. It's current CEO is Russell Weiner, Michael Savage's son and a co-founder of the "Paul Revere Society" here in the States.A few facts about Michael Savage. Better yet, here are a few comments directly from the mouth of Michael:

 "You want me to tell you what makes me sick? When I see two puffy white males kissing each other, I want to puke. When I see two women kissing each other, on the lips, as lovers, I want to vomit."

·      "When you hear "human rights," think only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son. And you'll get it just right. OK, you got it, right? When you hear "human rights," think only someone who wants to molest your son, and send you to jail if you defend him. Write that down, make a note of it."

·      "...children's minds are being raped by the homosexual mafia, that's my position. They're raping our children's minds."

·     "You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is."

Disgusting, right? Michael Savage is reaping profits from the selling of Rockstar Energy Drink.

How about some facts about Savage's son, Russell Weiner?

·     Fact #1: At a Rockstar-sponsored concert at Concord Pavillion in 2004, Russell Weiner warmed up the crowd by chanting "Who's heterosexual and proud? If you're not, hopefully you will be soon."

·     Fact #2: Russell Weiner co-founded the conservative Paul Revere Society (with his father). In 2006, the organization had its tax-exempt status revoked.

·     Fact #3: Among the positions championed by the Paul Revere Society, and presumably by Russell Weiner? (1) Support for traditional marriage only; (2) deportation of all illegal immigrants; (3) eliminating bilingual education in all states; (4) requiring health tests for all foreign born people; (5) ending affirmative action; (6) closing off the borders; and (7) make tax cuts permanent and end class action lawsuits.

Russell Weiner, as CEO of Rockstar, makes a boatload of money off the beverage.

Do you like your money going to a family that champions hate? Do you want your money going to a man who says that autism is a made up disease? To a man who says that all LGBT people are sodomites who deserve to get AIDS?

If the answer is no, then don't buy Rockstar Energy Drink. And if you see a club - especially an LGBT club - serving it, please say something to the management.

If you want more information, check out thetruthaboutrockstar.com. The site isn't updated terribly frequently, but it has some basic information about the sordid story of the family that makes millions off of Rockstar Energy Drink.


April 23, 2009

Every year U2 send members of their fan club an exclusive item not available for sale to the general public.  This year, they have just sent a double-CD titled "Medium, Rare, and Remastered" featuring 20 rare, b-side, or alternate songs. 

This collection is such an amazing treat, what The Edge refers to as the U2 sketchbook. As he writes in the liner notes, "these ideas are often the most revealing of their time because they are the least worked on songs and recordings. For this reason, they are some of my favourites". 

I couldn't agree more. Stretching from 1987 to 2004 these rarities provide an incisive look into the recording sessions that would bring us the finished albums we have come to know and love so well.   You can hear possible hints for the sonic direction of the given era as well as some risks and experiments that, while not making the final cut, certainly make for an interesting listening experience. This is a thoughtful and much-appreciated offering from U2.

With sadness and tears...

11-year-old Jaheem Herrera committed suicide last week. This little boy hanged himself at his home after, according to his family, relentless anti-gay bullying at his elementary school.

11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hung himself at home two weeks ago, after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay.

Two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to "From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America", a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. The top reason was physical appearance.

"As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language," Byard said. "From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers. In many cases, schools and teachers either ignore the behavior or don’t know how to intervene."

Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students.

Regardless of your views on LGBT people, this is unacceptable and horribly tragic. There is no moral, religious, or ethical argument that can condone the bullying of children by other children for perceived differences. Ignorance and bigotry are taught and passed down to children. We destroy the meaning of family when we teach that others are less deserving of our respect, and less deserving of equal standing in our community. 

Degrees of Success

Statistics Canada is today reporting on the college and university graduates of 2005. By 2007, two years after graduation, 9 out of 10 college, bachelor's, master's and doctorate graduates who had not taken further education were working. The median annual earnings among those working full time in 2007 was $35,000 for college graduates, $45,000 for bachelor's graduates, $60,000 for master's graduates and $65,000 for doctorate graduates. 

Therefore, the earnings gap was 33% between the bachelor's and master's degree, and 29% between a bachelor's and a college degree. But it was only 8% between the master's and doctorate levels.

However, while earnings generally increased by level of study, there were large distributions of annual earnings within each education level. Thus, some college graduates earned more than many bachelor's graduates. For example, 25% of college graduates earned $44,300 or more annually, while 50% of bachelor's graduates earned $45,000 or less.

Some 46% of all 2005 bachelor's graduates completed their studies free of debt, as did 56% of doctorates, 55% of college grads and 54% of those with a master's. Of the balance of graduates with student debt, the average debt amounts were $22,500 for doctorate graduates, $20,400 for bachelor's graduates, $19,500 for master's graduates, and $11,800 for college graduates. StatsCan found that average debt levels for 2005 grads were lower than those of the 2000 college and university graduates.  

Conclusions: Whatever the individual's particular interests may be it is clear some some form of post-secondary education has long-term financial benefits that outweigh all initial costs, including the accrual of debt. In addition the federal government provides healthy tuition tax credits that can be applied against one's income tax which, ultimately, lowers the actual cost of education. However. many students find themselves pressured to enrol in programs for which they are a poor fit, and their maturity level and commitment are not yet at the level required to position them for success. We need to equally value the array of postsecondary options at both the college and university levels. While I firmly believe in the instrinsic value of higher education I also think it does not detract from the purpose of education to also claim that higher education is also a very worthwhile investment. 

April 22, 2009

Tempest in a Tea Bag

A week ago today hundreds of thousands of upset Americans held a day of protest against perceived federal government waste termed "Tea Parties" in hommage to the now infamous one in Boston circa 1773.  As it turns out, these protests were spurred and organized by national conservative groups, so the crux of the demonstrations are a vehement repudiation of Obama's policy on taxes, corporate bailouts, and his administration's use of taxpayer monies to spend the U.S. out of its deep recession. 

Now don't get me wrong. I have no issue with the protests themselves, even if they were more astroturf than grassroots. These citizens have every right to protest and gather to provoke dissent and debate. But I can't help but wonder why these same patriots haven't gone ballistic over the fact that the Iraq war has cost America $662B and that the Afghanistan war has cost America $186B.  

I have also noticed a great deal of quotes from various Colonial American Presidents in the rhetoric of the approved speaking points of these groups. I am just as nostalgic and weepy for the great oratory of the past as the next guy, but the United States is today a country of 306 million people, a massive citizenry requiring a sophisticated public policy on a nearly endless array of issues (health, education, business, environment, safety, etc.). In 1790 the population of the Republic was somewhere around 3.9 million. The politic of the individual, rooted in ancient feudal systems, still made sense and was still feasible (if not completely just). 

Everyone in America agrees on the financial problem facing the country. The rather divisive and bitterly partisan debate is about what is the right and best way in which to address the problem. Obama's economic stimulas package is his "New Deal", a staggering and comprehensive economic policy emanating from the federal government at a level not seen in 70 years. Frankly, the rabid Tea Party folks, who sit on the right of the political ideology see-saw, are freaking out about the socialism coming out of D.C. They want the Government to stay out of the way and let market forces take care of things.  As far as anyone can tell, however, it was the unbridled free market that created this very problem. 

Better boil a pot of water. It's going to be a long Spring.



April 15, 2009

Another Publication!

Well, I am delighted to report that I've had another paper accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal!! This time the article is "Among Imperfect Alternatives: Policy choices for funding Ontario's universities" and the journal is International Education Studies published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. The issue is due to come out in print and electronic format in August.  

Kingston Landmark to Close

I am saddened to report that downtown Kingston's landmark department store S&R will be closing this summer. S&R has been one of the last independent department stores in Ontario, offering a bewildering array of household products, food, clothing, hardware, toys, and footwear since 1959. For me, a Sunday is not complete without a browse around the four levels of crammed-in offerings. While nowhere near as kitschy, S&R has been Kingston's version of Honest Ed's. Generations of students and citizens alike have run to S&R to find that thing they needed at the best prices around. Oh ya, and it still has an elevator operator; a lovely hommage to its 1950s roots. 

According to company president “decreasing profit margins, a 100% increase in the property tax assessment and a decrease in American tourists coming to Kingston” are the primary causes of the impending closure. Many locals are pointing the blame at the nearby K-ROCK arena, an argument that defies all possible logic. Much more explanatory power lies in the changing patterns of consumer behaviour, driven by the big box warehouses in the suburbs and an urban design philosophy still stubbornly centred around vehicles. No, there is likely more blame to be laid at the feet of RioCan, which has recently developed three major big box shopping configurations within the city limits, including an in-progress outlet mall just off the 401. 

I don't wish to be an alarmist but the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area folks will need all of its resources and creativity in order to stave off the potential blood loss these challengers represent. Downtown Kingston is still one of the most vibrant downtown cores in all of Canada but complacency will eat away any competitive advantage, no matter how well entrenched. Harcore pitching to our own cynical suburbanites as well as tourists within a 3-hour radius will need to be stepped up. The good news is such conditions often breed innovation, something downtown Kingston should welcome with open arms. 

April 10, 2009

1984 Revisited

As popular culture has accelerated at an astonishing pace, thanks in large part to the devices that have helped to define it, I've been thinking about how the music industry had also changed. Our relationship with music has also changed, perhaps irrevocably so. Not that long ago we queued up to purchase albums or casette tapes when an album was released. There was a sense of a release being a sort of mini event, and bands and labels pretty much had control over the flow of the process. 

More importantly, while hits have always been important to a band's success, labels gave bands time to grow their audiences through touring and the support of A&R staff, who also developed strong relationships with the most influential radio DJs across the country.  All this apparatus has been profoundly shaken up with the advent of digital delivery of music. Albums/records have quickly lost their preeminence in favour of singles, and bands unable to deliver quick wins through singles are dropped off the talent treadmill. 

When U2 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Bono said that the way the industry is comprised now, U2 would have likely never made it as a band as the entire support structure for nurturing talent is quickly vanishing. It might be hard to accept Bono at face value given that U2 have sold around 145 million records, but bear in mind that U2's first  #1 hit was not until their fifth album in 1987.  Just try and imagine a label allowing any new band up to five albums to get a hit. It just would not happen. 

The other causualty of the Billboard obsessed music industry is that music has become just another consumable good. Somewhere along the way music became fast food. Songs are heralded and then almost instantly forgotten, as consumers look for the next fad or hit. The recording artists suffer as labels are becoming just as finicky. No wonder so many are going independent, although this is mighty risky for a young artist or group.  There are only a handful of songs or recording artists that emerged wthin the last decade that will be celebrated in 25 years, or that truly influenced or changed popular culture. Maybe even less.

The problem with consumer culture is that we devalue the products we consume through our very consumption of them. The visceral experience of going to get a release, opening up the liner notes, smelling the packaging and taking in the cover art, is a dying aesthetic undertaking. Songs are written and ordered on a record to create a whole greater than the sum of parts. It would be like judging books by printing random chapters before the whole book is released. 

All this to saythat when we've already thrown aside the lastest hits from a Beyonce, Lady Ga Ga or Nickelback, we're constantly on the look for another hit, another buzz, another instant gratification. We are no longer savouring a piece of music and we tend to think that last week's hit song or band is, well, so last week. But as do people, artists mature and grow and learn. It's not merely nostalgia to appreciate music that might have some moss growing on it. You might be surprised in the genuine aural pleasure of listening to long-forgotten and discarded songs.

So in this spirit, I thought I would partake in what I call the 25-year test and take a look back at the best music of 1984. I tend to concentrate on arists and bands that I believe I will want to listen to in 25 years. It's heartening to be on YouTube and read the comments of youth who were just toddlers when these songs came out and who are surprised at how good the music is and how not only relevant it is but also how well it holds up and can be incorporated into their current lives. 

Yes, yes, there has always been bubble gum throwaway music and, yes, the 1980s had a great deal of utter crap but I read a provocative article recently that argued quite convincingly that the music of the 1980s was far more influential than, as the author claimed, the over-rated music of the 1960s.  What, heresy you say?  Perhaps, but open your mind a little and think about the influence of the New Wave. In any case, enjoy this return to some of the best songs of 1984; songs that actually defined genres, and made a real impact;  songs that hold their own to the menues on the iPods of generation Millenial:

"What's Love Gotta Do with It" (Tina Turner)
"Jump" (Van Halen)
"Like a Virgin" (Madonna)   
"Pride" (U2)
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (Cyndi Lauper)
"The Reflex" (Duran Duran)
"Here Comes the Rain Again" (Eurythmics)
"Purple Rain" (Prince)
"Wrapped Around Your Finger" (The Police)
"Got a Hold on Me" (Fleetwood Mac)
"Dancing in the Dark" (Bruce Springsteen)
"Hold me Now (Thompson Twins)
"Footloose" (Kenny Loggins)
"Karma Chameleon" (Culture Club)

April 9, 2009

With the lights out

Wow, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. I can't believe that much time has passed. I was not a huge fan of Nirvana, or the whole grunge movement, but only an idiot would deny Cobain's influence and that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was an anthem of a generation. 

I was the artistic director of a youth theatre company back in 1994 and my actors were simply devastated. I recall that we had a rehearsal the day his body was discovered and I had the actors sit around and share their feelings. I could see how much Cobain and the band's music meant to them, and we all ended up getting just that much closer to one another. 

I remember thinking what a shame that he could not have gotten through the darkness to the other side. He was certainly a poet and he had a singular voice and talent.  

April 7, 2009

Wanted: Ordinary Canadians

We (we) are (are) 
Ordinary people 
No matter what we stand for, 
All in all, we're all the same 
And it don't matter 

      --The Box

Apparently, according to the PMO, ordinary Canadians don't care about the Mulroney-Schreiber scandal. This issue, along with arts, is another thing to add to the pile of wasteful and useless aspects of our national affairs that ordinary Canadians couldn't care less about. During the Canadian federal election I heard a great deal about this special segment of our population. It is not exactly clear to me who "ordinary Canadians" are, but my best guess is that they appear to eat out at Tim Horton's, play hockey, have a manufacturing or farming job, and tend to live in rural areas. From what I've gleamed from politicians' speeches over the past year ordinary Canadians harbour a disdain for anything that might be confused with an urban lifestyle (i.e. homosexuals, culture, mass transit, etc). Research suggests there are no ordinary Canadians in Toronto or Ottawa, and that ordinary Canadians all seem to live on a Main street. It also appears to be the case that ordinary Canadians don't challenge the status quo. Those people are called "special interests", and apparently they want to take rights away from ordinary Canadians. Lastly, it also seems that ordinary Canadians are the only ones who care about family values, the plight of the working class, the financial meltdown, and the future of Canada. No wonder our provincial and federal leaders are constantly appealing to this subset of our citizenry. I can't wait to meet some of these ordinary Canadians.  

April 2, 2009

The Mac is back!

Four of us went to see Fleetwood Mac recently at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place (formely Corel Centre). The line-up was classic "Rumours"era Mac save for Christine McVie, who has elected not to tour anymore. 

The band was very generous, giving us a 2 1/2 hour romp through one of the finest back catalogues in rock music. Guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham is surely one of the finest guitar gods ever! He was simply astonishing with some wall-busting solos, and inventive interpretations of his classics "Never Going Back Again" and "So Afraid", the latter so intense I was waiting for cracks to form in the arena ceiling. 

And the great Stevie Nicks gave us such gems as "Landslide", "Rhianna", "Sara", and "Gold Dust Woman" and then surprised with her 80s hit "Stand Back". The crowd went absolutely ballistic for "The Chain", "Second Hand News", "Go Your Own Way",  and the closer "Don't Stop". 

It was wonderful to see these aging rock legends show that you don't have to be in your 20s to bring the house down. The magic that made them superstars in the mid 1970s was evident as they hit their stride and took everyone down a great nostalgic path.

April 1, 2009

U2 Live (a photo essay)

War Tour (1983)

The Unforgettable Fire Tour (1984-85)

The Joshua Tree Tour (1987)

The LoveTown Tour (1989-90)

Z00TV Tour (1992-93)

P0PMart Tour (1997-98)

Elevation Tour (2001-02)

Vertigo Tour (2005-06)


2 of U2 to take on Broadway

With all the hooplah around U2's new album and upcoming sure-to-break-records world tour, you may be surpised to learn that Bono & Edge have been working hard on a little side project called "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark" a mega-musical opening in February 2010 in New York. Directed by Julie Taymor the production will tell the tale of Peter Parker in a way we've never seen before. 

Sweden legalizes marriage for same-sex couples

[from Advocate.com]

"Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide after a six-hour debate on Wednesday among parliament members.

Gender-neutral marriage licenses will begin to be issued starting May 1, replacing a civil union option that has been offered since 1995. Religious institutions will not be compelled to perform ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. A majority of bishops in the Church of Sweden said that churches should not be allowed the task of handling legal registrations of marriages."

Sweden joins The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa as countries that allow marriage for same-sex couples.